October 22nd was not just another day in the U.S. Senate. This was the day that Rev. Kathryn "Katie" Pocalyko was invited by Senator Mark Warner to open the session in prayer.
While Rear Admiral Barry C. Black (Ret.) is the elected chaplain of the U.S. Senate, guest chaplains are regularly invited by representatives to offer the opening prayer.
"I believe prayer orients the senators to the higher calling that they have," said Pastor Pocalyko. "That no matter what their individual beliefs may be, they are here to serve something that is greater than what they can see. For a Christian, the prayer orients us to God's call to service that Christ exemplified."
When Rev. Pocalyko, pastor of Lutheran Church of Our Saviour in North Chesterfield, Va., was called up in front of the cameras, she walked with confidence and began speaking with a slight smile on her face.
"O God most mighty, O God most merciful, O God our strength and our song, You call these leaders to serve the public, promote justice, and establish peace in our land. We lift before You all who govern and serve our Nation through this body, its Senators, its staff, and its pages. Bless Members with collaboration in this Holy experiment. Give to those whom we entrust with authority the spirit of wisdom and understanding. Guide them with the spirit of counsel and insight. Grant them a spirit of knowledge. Grace them with Your presence. For You show us a vision of a tree whose leaves are for the healing of the Nations. May that tree take root here, bearing fruit in the hearts and work of these servants. We pray this through Your Holy Name. Amen."
The Lutheran influences on her prayer are subtle but may be evident to ordained rostered leaders.
"I did very much feel like a representative of the Lutheran Church and of the ELCA in being asked to do this," she said.
Many of her references come from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW), which you may recognize as the red book in the pews of your church.
"As I starting thinking about how I could paint a picture of what the Senate ultimately does, my mind went quickly to some words from Eucharistic Prayer 10 in the ELW which ends with the line, 'you show us a vision of a tree of life with fruits for all and leaves that heal the nations,' recalling Revelation 22, which was one of my ordination texts."
"I believe that part of God's mission and the Senate's mission is to heal thenations, so I meditated on what it would mean for that tree to be planted in the middle of the Senate floor, a space I'm familiar with from my Page days."
This wasn't the first time that Pastor Pocalyko had stepped into the chamber of the U.S. Senate. When she was a junior in high school she spent an entire semester living in Washington D.C. as a Page in the U.S. Senate. According to the U.S. Senate website, Page duties consist of preparing the chamber for Senate sessions and carrying bills and amendments to the desk. While every Page spends the early morning hours in an accredited school, their experience in the Senate gives them a view of politics and government that cannnot be found in a textbook.
Pocalyko's interest in politics began when her father ran for a position in the Virginia House of Delegates. Although he was not elected, the process caused a spark in his young daughter. After writing to one of her representatives when she was in the 8th grade and receiving a response that included information about the Page Program, Pocalyko decided to apply the summer before her junior year of high school.
As a Page she lived with teenagers from Maine to Alaska under the supervision of the Page Program staff. She was not only exposed to the senators, she was also able to meet Chaplain Barry C. Black.
"Being able to see a minister while I was also seeing these public servants, influenced my call to ministry," said Pastor Pocalyko. "His prayers helped me see that public service and God's work in the world are not disconnected."
After Rev. Pocalyko answered the call to become the pastor of Lutheran Church of Our Saviour this year, she was having a conversation with her parents when the idea of becoming a guest chaplain for the Senate came up.
After contacting the office of Senator Mark Warner to express her interest and find out more information, she was offered an invitation. After she prayed to open the session, Pastor Pocalyko, Yale Divinity School 2013, was even able to spend a few lighthearted moments with Senator Warner, Harvard Law School 1980, as they jested about the rivalry between their alma maters.
|Pastor Pocalyko having a friendly conversation with Senator Warner after her opening prayer|
"The most meaningful part of this experience was coming back as the pastor God had started calling me to be through my time as a Page," she said. "The whole experience was humbling, an honor, a blessing, and also a completion, in a way."
When Pastor Pocalyko left the capitol, she came back to encouragement from her congregation and other friends from across the country.
"I received so many emails, texts, and Facebook notes that day and after. I felt very proud to be representing the people of Lutheran Church of Our Saviour."
Rev. Kathyrn Pocalyko, her congregation, as well as the words of her prayer will be preserved in the congressional records
for the years to come.